What’s the POINT of Rotating in Freestyle?

In Technique by RITTER Admin14 Comments

All swimmers have heard the words: “rotate more” during their Freestyle. As coaches, we can definitely see when a swimmer is swimming “flat” on top of the water.

What is really interesting from a biomechanics perspective is some coaches opinions on rotating in Freestyle are changing. I was overseas in Australia and visiting with legendary coach, Michael Bohl. Michael (like many other coaches) is more of a proponent of swimming a flatter Freestyle.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve heard a coach say that the flatter the hips—the easier it is to increase tempo, so the point of this next series is to dissect WHY or WHY NOT rotating in Freestyle is necessary for swimmers.

Let’s get started…

The best way to describe one of the advantages of rotating in Freestyle is in a swimmer’s arm length. Let’s perform what I call the Rotation Test:

1. Arm Length (without Rotation)

  • Stand looking straight forward, while extending your right arm directly out in front of you. Note your arm length.

2. Arm Length (with Rotation)

  • Now, pivot on your right leg so your bellybutton is now facing left—keep your arm where it is. Note your arm length.

Test Results:

What you should have found from this test is that “on your side”–your arm length is longer, because you’ve shifted the hips. Not only is this rotation effect beneficial for a swimmer because their pulling arm has a longer distance to travel—which means a greater amount of time to generate propulsion, but a swimmer is also able to engage more muscles (i.e. a greater portion of their lats) because they start on their side and finish on their stomach.

Another way to think of rotation is like a washing machine. At the end of a washing cycle, the washer spins the clothes super fast to help whick away water from the clothes. This leaves the clothes a bit damp, but not soaking wet–so they’re easily transferred and ready for the dryer.

Rotating in Freestyle is similar in a sense that your body (at every given point during the rotation) is whicking away water from the body. At a certain point in the Freestyle pull, the body rotates towards the pulling arm which combines the water moving backwards by the hand, with the water moving away from the body. In reality, this combination of water bubbles causes a swimmer to move more water than they would normally, because they’re combining these two water pockets and pushing it backwards, versus just one of these pockets alone.

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Some biomechanists refer to this as a coupling motion, because a swimmer is combining these two water pockets together that they wouldn’t normally, unless the rotation is included.

The point at which this coupling motion happens is right after the catch–so about ¾ of the way down the pull. This is also in conjunction with surge point in the Freestyle stroke…guess, there is something to be said here, hey?? 😉

Next week, we will look more into the benefits of not including the rotation in the Freestyle stroke and what that does to help a swimmer swim faster. Be sure to stay tuned.

Until Next Time,

Abbie Fish

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Photo Credit: Jake Pierce


  1. I really like tis simple explanation, thank you
    As I start teaching swimming in 1970 I’ve seen all the changes from flat ,through Councilman’s s bend pull …etc etc, and I swim myself, so I know what works for me

    1. Glad the article was helpful for you–appreciate the comment and you following RitterSP!

  2. Please, don’t confuse the audience:

    “combines the water moving backwards by the hand..” it is totally untrue as the flow visualization demonstrated from the 90s.

    “combination of water bubbles” what does it means? Do you think that a swimmer should produce bubbles, this is again a big mistake, a swimmer shouldn’t produce bubbles in any moment during the propulsion, it will decrease the propulsion force significantly.

    I agree with the basic description of the shoulder rotating effect. But the other descriptions should be carefully reviewed.

    1. Perhaps you should read her article more carefully, as to not be confused yourself.

  3. I’m intrigued by a flatter freestyle if it gets coaches to stop emphasizing extraneous torso rotation. Rotation of the torso should arise from the final press and release of the propulsive hand as it passes the hips and slices out of the water. Torso rotation *results* from good propulsive mechanics (catch, press-back), but is not a major cause of good propulsion.

    Whatever torso rotation is achieved naturally at the point where the left hand exits the water and the right hand has extended fully (just beginning to set up the catch), that should be the limit of a swimmer’s torso rotation. Torso rotation beyond that point is extraneous and will detract from velocity.

    Don’t forget individual differences. A swimmer with longer arms (fingertips are mid-thigh) will naturally rotate more than a swimmer with shorter arms (fingertips at the hip) because of where the hand exits the water.

    Charles Sylvia was an early proponent of these principles, but Counsilman’s ideas were more influential at the time. A good history of it appears here: https://coachsci.sdsu.edu/swim/bullets/forces2.htm

  4. What about drag? If your shoulders are flat, aren’t you presenting a larger surface of resistance than if one shoulder is rotated down and the other is slightly up and encountering less resistance?

    1. Definitely true. But it is counteracted with a more frequent pull–so it’s all a balance.

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